Compliance Management, Network Security, Privacy

Human rights organisations declare EU-US privacy shield invalid

Two leading human rights organisations have called for an end to EU - US Privacy Shield, saying that US surveillance practices render it invalid. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch addressed the European Commission in a letter on 26 July.

According to the groups, “the United States of America (United States) does not ensure a level of fundamental rights protection regarding the processing of personal data that is essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the European Union (EU)”. In short, that the safety of European data cannot be ensured.

The letter calls on the European commission to encourage the US government to “adopt the necessary binding reforms so that the transfer of personal data”, complies with European law.

Furthermore, the letter adds, the two main US foreign intelligence agencies "and the programmes that are avowedly or reportedly conducted under them, demonstrably fall far short of essential equivalence to the standards set out in EU law and do not comport with international human rights guarantees.”

The attempt to address US surveillance is at the heart of EU-US Privacy Shield. The US government's surveillance practices were revealed in 2012 when National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked thousands of documents showing the bulk collection of private information on US and foreign citizens.

In light of this revelation, the previous decades-old data transfer framework, Safe Harbour, was deemed unlawful and struck down in European courts. In its place, EU-US Privacy Shield was devised, setting the rules for the transfer of data across the Atlantic.

It promised to improve upon its predecessor, with the framework's authors loudly declaring that they had received unprecedented written assurances that the data of European citizens would be safe from US domestic surveillance when it reached America.

Those assurances are distrusted by many, including large parts of the European Parliament The civil liberties group within the European parliament passed a resolution in April condemning EU-US Privacy Shield. In specific contention were weaknesses around objections and judicial remedies that individuals could apply for if their data was abused on the other side of the Atlantic. The resolution also raised questions around how European data would be handled in light of data sharing between US agencies.

This kind of criticism has not been sparing during the past year. Despite the defence of many within the commission, EU-US Privacy Shield has come under assault from a variety of sources, many believing that the agreement would not be safe with the Trump presidency as a partner.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International's proclamation comes ahead of a September review. Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality noted, as she announced the review that “This will be an important milestone where we need to check that everything is in place and working well.”

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